Saturday, January 03, 2009

Proposal for Polo Fields Sprint

Over the years I've done many of the biggest, baddest group rides in California. River Ride in Sacto, Noon Ride in Palo Alto, Spectrum Ride, Swamis, etc... and I've seen my share of crashes and crazy behavior. I don't mean to be sanctimonious with the following rant because I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to group-ride-induced-stupidity...

...but last week's Sunday Worlds really freaked me out, and I've been replaying a scary scene over and over in my mind. I was in the back of the bunch going into the Polo Fields sprint, and since the pace was too slow, the group (~50 riders) was spread 4-5 wide across the lane. Pretty much clogged. I considered moving up but that would have meant crossing the center line, and since a large SUV was heading towards us in the other lane, I did a quick Physics calculation and determined I'd better sit out the sprint instead. I guess ten or so riders weren't so adept at Physics though, because they had no problem playing chicken with the oncoming SUV to move up a few spots in the sprint. (And just to reiterate, this is an unofficial, artificial line in the road and the rider that crosses it first DOES NOT WIN ANYTHING because IT IS NOT A RACE.) So anyway, predictable carnage ensued when the riders moved back into the clogged bunch to avoid the SUV. Result: four riders down, multiple broken clavicles and ribs among them. But what still freaks me out was seeing the Echelon rider's body sliding along the pavement on the center-line just as the SUV passed by. There was no daylight between him and the vehicle, and I thought he was a goner. That he wasn't squished and escaped with only a broken collarbone is by pure random luck. I wish him and the others a speedy recovery.

Here's my proposal to make it safer: Any rider who finds himself (or herself) in the front within the last mile or so should just bury himself (or herself) to keep the speed high. If you're on the front in that last mile, then it's not your day to sprint. Don't sit up and look for a wheel, instead be a lead-out motor for all your friends behind. Get the speed well over 30 mph and when you fade, just get out of the way. Same thing for the next rider. And the next. All the way into the final few hundred meters at which point only the front 5 or 6 riders should have a chance anyway because at 30+ mph it will be single file. This is basic stuff. Fast sprints are safe sprints. What goes around comes around. You find yourself with lead-out duty one week, and the next week you are in the sweet spot and you can sprint and you don't need to cross the center-line and play chicken with an SUV.

A more drastic proposal would be to neutralize the sprint anytime there's an oncoming vehicle, but that's probably just crazy talk. After all, there is no cure for group-ride-induced-stupidity... you just try to control its worst symptoms.


anony-miss said...

You expect people to be selfless?
How about no crossing into oncoming traffic lanes even if there is a dotted yellow line.

Anonymous said...

what a bunch of f****** idiots...

Anonymous said...

or how about weeding out the fools and not risking death and injury of all. It totally amazes me the risks people take for a big dick contest.

Marco Fanelli said...

I think I agree.

A couple of us tried to ramp it up today but didn't really succeed due to tired legs and wattage-deficit-disorder.

I have a second proposal... since our ride has two of the fastest road sprinters in the US--Cody O'Reilly and Ken Hanson--and they often sit out the sprint anyway, I think they should be primary lead-out duty. I guarantee that those two could keep it single file for a couple miles.

jen said...

Crossing the center line to win a group ride sprint? Are you f-cking kidding me? That could not be more stupid.

Bike riding under the best of conditions is a dangerous business, what with the inattentive cars and whathaveyou. There's really no need to make it even more dangerous by making poor decisions. There's never a good reason to cross the center line, and doing it on a group ride puts everyone at risk.

I think you, Marco, and some of the other more experienced dudes need to step up a bit and play the enforcer on some of these issues. It really shouldn't be this dangerous out there.

It's supposed to be fun, you know?

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

I concur....I, too, was at the back of the pack that day...and it was the most terrifying moment I have ever spent on a bike. I saw that car coming and those people over the line...and I was certain someone was a goner. The group essentially ran the SUV off the road, and I can't believe the driver didn't stop to yell. They were probably in shock from nearly running someone over.

I'm all for keeping it safe. Following the traffic laws should be a given.

Anonymous said...

What I'de like to know...Did Carlos get pics of the incident?


Anonymous said...

will do my part to lead it out, was not there, but sounds very sketchy....

Anonymous said...

I will definitely do my part if I'm there... But if Ben Haldeman tries to bring Chris Horner to the front then I will grab him by the shoulder and say "slow down cow boy".
Lance Armstrong

Gianni said...

There are group rides I do.

And ones I avoid.

Our little Tuesday Worlds lives by your rule and has for years, works great!

One crash in four years speaks loudly for the mindset you can go fast, have fun, and be back at work in one piece......


Anonymous said...

How about moving the sprint earlier to the rise about a mile before the current line. It's uphill. The problem with the current sprint is even if it's going fast, in the draft it's too easy, and the guy leading out can't go fast enough. Put it on a rise and you'll get your best sprinter.

As proof that the current sprint can be won by anyone, I took it a bunch of times.

Then you guys can cruise to the polo fields and regroup before the stop sign.


Anonymous said...

For my two cents, I would say that those who favor self preservation,and getting a legitimate workout should skip the Bates re-group and keep motoring back to town. If people can't stay with the group up Gobernador Canyon and Bates then they should start a B-ride that leaves 15 minutes later. Nothing annoys me more than people sitting in never taking a pull, skipping gobernador canyon, and then coming out of someones draft for the Polo Fields sprint. I realize that some people like to do large group rides to socialize, but for the sake of all parties involved save it for the coffee shop.

Marco Fanelli said...

Is that why you and John never make the group rides anymore? I just assumed you couldn't get up early enough!

Doc Kim-
We were lucky to be in the back!

Carlos never gets pics at the Polo Fields! Gee, I wonder why...

Anony 7:10-
Good job... you'll earn karma points!

Lance (or Chester, Dubberley, or Cookie)-

Other than the Alto Velo "A Ride", I've never really seen a group ride that sticks to rules. I'm just hoping for a little common sense.

First of all, anybody who gets in the money in NRC field sprints as often as you do doesn't have the right to say, "As proof that the current sprint can be won by anyone, I took it a bunch of times." Not on my blog anyway! Second, your logic for moving the sprint is good but I still worry that somebody would cross over the center line. That earlier stretch of road has way worse visibility for oncoming traffic. I still think that a dedicated sequence of lead-out riders would make it safe enough. I nominate: Daniel, Keith, Cody, and Ken that order. And I get to sit on Ken!

Anony 11:30-
I don't really mind that many of the people who sprint at the Polo Fields don't do Goob and Bates. But I totally agree that people would be better served by doing some work before the sprint. I mean, when is a race ever easy leading into the sprint?

Marco Fanelli said...

I meant I've never seen a LARGE group ride stick to rules! You are right that smaller rides do a good job, and our Tuesday lunchtime ride is also pretty good.

Gianni said...

I would agree- it seems like the light- running and centerline idiocy begins at about 50 people and escalates from there.

Good post.

Anonymous said...

I'd be willing to bet that the morons who were responsible probably don't buy racing licenses and probably won't be lining up at the REAL Worlds... Mothballs!

Somehow I just don't think winning the polo field sprint is worth eating SUV grille though.

jen said...

Gone surfin' ;-)

Scott said...

Marco -
I was one of the riders taken out in the aftermath of the irresponsible and dangerous behavior of those 10 or so riders on December 28. I ended up with a broken collarbone and rib along with the assorted bruising, etc, when you hit the road hard. I seem to be healing ok (thanks) and would like to weigh in on this thread.

There are, at least, two issues to address here. One is the Polo Field sprint in its current form where too many riders are bunched up too close week after week. This is a recipe for accidents, even without idiots going over the double yellow. I think your proposal of fast leadouts could help here if the stronger riders agree to do so. If, and this is a big if, the pace is pushed back up to 30+ after crossing over the Santa Monica Creek, the group will definitely stretch out and a clot of riders in the sprint is less likely. This could help.

However, the bigger issue (IMHO) is the idiots that go over the center (double yellow) to get better position in the sprint. If they did this in a race, they'd be DQ'd - why not do something similar here. This is at least the second time in the past several weeks that riders have crossed the double yellow in this sprint with an on-coming vehicle heading toward them. My proposal is to boot riders that do this from Worlds. Better yet, make sure the local cycling community knows these riders are not welcome on the group rides. They place everyone at risk when they exercise this selfish, dangerous behavior. Someone knows who they are / were. Make it clear that this behavior will not be tolerated.


Anonymous said...

I think you need to keep the regrouping as part of the ride. Folks that skip the hardest parts aren't really going to progress...and maybe they don't want to. Come race day, they aren't an issue so don't stress that. Regrouping is good to keep the ride social and keep people interested in cycling. Some of them might be quite intimidated doing Goob. If they come out enough and aren't ditched every week, then maybe they'll give it a try some time.

Mark, it could be as simple as mentioning at the start to keep the sprint safe and maybe even shouting that out, a mile to go, before the sprint. Then it's in everyone's heads?


Marco Fanelli said...

Thanks for weighing in here. I knew it was you I watched sliding next to the car but didn't want to name names. Be glad you didn't see what I saw. Best wishes for continued recovery.

Michael said...

Some of us dinosaurs in your ol' stomping grounds have just stopped doing these rides altogether. We do miss the speed workouts but the risk is too great. The respected riders in the group need to use their power to change things by policing the idiots. Shame is that these days the "respected" riders are often the very ones exhibiting this kind of behavior. When I've tried to police they just look at me as if my dentures have just flown out.

Marco Fanelli said...

Michael W.!! I don't read latin (per your website) but I google-stalked it and figured out it was you. (as if "old stomping grounds" wasn't a good enough clue!

But back to the topic at hand... Surely you miss the River Ride, but you are totally correct to avoid it. Last time I was there, guys were echeloned over the center-line even with oncoming traffic. Didn't some unfortunate junior get hit a couple years ago? You roll the dice enough times and something yucky will happen.

...Damn, I'm such a negative old codger these days!